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Saturday, December 15, 2012
W2W4: Celtics vs. Spurs (Game 23 of 82)

By Chris Forsberg

D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty ImagesCan Rajon Rondo and the Celtics atone for a loss to the Spurs in Boston last month?
The Boston Celtics (12-10, 4-6 away) visit the San Antonio Spurs (18-6, 7-2 home) on Saturday night at the AT&T Center. Here's what to watch for:

* STOP SPLITTER TO SPLIT 'EM: During the first meeting in Boston, the Celtics did a decent job on San Antonio's stars, but it was reserve big man Tiago Splitter's monster night (23 points on 9-of-11 shooting over 25:58) that made the difference in the Spurs' 112-100 triumph. The Celtics shouldn't need a reminder about Splitter, particularly coming off a loss in which they got torched by Houston backup big man Greg Smith (8-of-9 shooting for 20 points over 21:46).

* SYNERGY SNAPSHOT: The Spurs sit fourth in the NBA by averaging 0.977 points per play, according to Synergy Sports data. San Antonio won't try to run the Celtics out of the building like Houston did, but it will attempt to grind Boston down in the pick-and-roll (or open cracks with crisp ball movement). Defensively, the Spurs rank sixth overall at 0.887 points per play. Despite being susceptible to the pick-and-roll and spot-up shooters -- opponents' two most common play types -- the Spurs limit the damage in transition and rank among the league's best in defending post-up and isolation situations.

* ENERGY CHECK: The Celtics will be playing a back-to-back after coming off Friday's loss in Houston, while San Antonio is coming off a rest day. The Spurs haven't exactly been relaxing, as this will be their fourth game in six nights. After an inconsistent effort against the Rockets, the Celtics have to be focused on putting 48 minutes together -- as rare as that has been this season. Boston cannot afford to let up at any point Saturday, or San Antonio will pounce.

* DRIBBLE PENETRATION: Boston had improved its perimeter defense, cutting down on dribble penetration in recent games, but it regressed mightily over its last two outings. Said Rivers after Friday's loss: "We couldn't stay in front of the ball. It's a shame because someone's going to look at the stat sheet and they're going to say our bigs got beat up tonight. Our bigs got beat up because our guards and our small forwards and our power forwards couldn't keep the ball in front of them. At some point, it's a one-on-one defense, and that makes the team defense better, and we didn't do a very good job of that." Expect the team's defense to be the primary focus when Rivers meets with his team before Saturday's game.